Review of Chen Xin’s book (Part 1)

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

Happy to report my book has arrived. Hardcover, 750 pages.

I pre-ordered my copy from INBI. Don’t bother, they’re already sold out… 😦 You will have to wait until the second printing.

Sender was “chen xiao-wen” – the same person who is listed in the book as editorial manager. Translator was alex golstein. I am unsure if chen xiaowen refers to chen xiaowang, since it does seem somewhat plausible chen xiaowang might be involved, and additionally his picture is on the very last page of the book.
Editor: Juliana Ngiam
Project design: Roman Mukhortikov

I don’t have time to do a full review right now and I haven’t read the book at all yet but I will make some observations.

-Editor’s note starts off saying “(this book) is universally acknowledged by the Taoist community and Taiji practitioners as the seminal sourcebook…”

-The very first page of the book contains a song of taijiquan by chen pan ling, in commemoration of this book.

-There seems to be a large amount of information pertaining to the location of accupoints and meridians in the book, and a large amount of illustrations, nearly all of which appear useless at first glance. I doubt the value of the illustrations and explanations of postures because they do not appear specific enough; but again I have not read the book yet so I don’t know what Chen Xin was trying to accomplish with those descriptions.

-The translation on pages 110 and 111 is functionally similar to the one on Jarek Szymanski’s page (http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/taiji/chenxin.html). There are some omissions and the translation seems to gloss over some things which might deserve a few words. Notably it omits ” (I do) not know (if this is) correct or not, for the time being (I gave) illustrated explanation to make it more funny.”. As a result of this omission I realise that this book is intent at presenting information and not a faithful translation of what chen xin may have said or meant. This makes me frown but on the whole it seems like a worthwhile “first translation”.

-Most of the useful portion of the book appears to be in songs and poems and explanations of the postures.

-one song which starts off sounding like wang zongyue’s tai chi classic has a different idea of yin and yang/movement and stillness. (I didn’t read the whole song)

I will write a more detailed review after work if anyone is interested. This book would appear to be quite authoritave on the subject of what chen taiji was like in chen xin’s day (1849-1929).

Anyone else get their books? Thoughts? Impressions?

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

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The Death of Tabbycat Yiquan

Part two in a series.

“This server could not verify that you are authorized to access the document requested. Either you supplied the wrong credentials (e.g., bad password), or your browser doesn’t understand how to supply the credentials required.”

Well, he SAID he was going to do it. I briefly considered backing up his entire website for my own benefit. But I didn’t.

This is another in a long line of casualties – small, independant blogs or mailing lists that end up dead. It’s a pity. I know why it died. He said why he was going to do it. I know why they all die. There’s a few related reasons. First, the author is someone who sticks his neck out and explains stuff that isn’t usually talked about. Second, the idiot factor. That is, that there is a small percentage (or a large percentage, play the crowd) of people who a. are there to denounce neijia for whatever reason b. are not dedicated enough and try to talk as if they “know” but they don’t. Some of the people in b. have been doing various martial arts for years. Yet there are subtle problems with what they do and they can’t see it. What they have works for them, so they think they are on the right path. Then someone like Tabby comes along and they use what he says to back their own positions up as if they were really saying the same thing all along. When they didn’t even get what he was saying was just a personal expression and nothing more.

So. TabbyCat Yiquan’s last post threatened to take it down or password it if he got pissed off at what other people were saying about him, or what he said. I knew it was only a matter of time.

This reminds me of something I read somewhere years ago. Professional and amateur wine tasters tend to use the same vocabulary (fruity, cheeky, all those pretentious words alcoholics, er I mean wine aficianados like to bandy about). The significant difference is that whereas there is a very high correlation between the experts in their choice of adjectives for a given wine, the amateurs will generally use different descriptive words, with very wide variations between individuals for the same wine.

Professionals have internalized the vocabulary and matched it to their perceptions in a standardized way, whereas most amateurs have simply learned the words and apply them as they see fit. A very significant difference, not least because it renders the amateurs’ descriptions, however poetic they might be, utterly useless, not to say hopelessly misleading, to anyone else who is trying to get a handle on wine appreciation. – John Prince

That is the best description of the “newbie” factor I’ve seen yet. Keep in mind these people may be honest and hey – don’t think I’m not aware this analogy works both ways. It speaks as much to my own ignorance as it does any of my detractors. Or Tabby’s for that matter.

Again, I think we lost something when Tabby got locked down. There was something about his frankness, diary-style posts which I found really refreshing. I would have enjoyed a discussion on the missing basic, even in private, but he never allowed comments to his blog. I couldn’t even contact him to arrange my own one month training session with Mr. Yao. I live near beijing (relatively speaking) and I would love to hop over and spend a month there. I suppose I could have done more research on it and found an email address but now the front page is actually locked – it’s not like how I failed to notice a “sign up” button on ZMS’s new blog…

I don’t want to ramble on forever but I do want to comment on Tabby’s allusion to a missing basic. I think it is unfair and unwise to parade this sort of thing and not be open to discuss it. I have my own ideas about training and practice which many would find off. I’ve been heavily chastized before. But the funny thing is that when I look these people up, I realise they have less training than I do, and might even train less than I do on a daily basis (according to more than one person’s training diary. Big HMM.) It’s funny that they would be so crass to talk down to me.. So I kind of know what Tabby might be feeling right now. As I recall Tabby said he trained 6+ hours a day which is even more than I used to train. So I am sure he has some interesting insights which NO ONE ELSE including myself would have.

I think a measure of respect for one man’s devotion is not too much to ask. Let’s all take a moment to think about anything we said regarding Tabbycat and how we may have completely misunderstood him. Then let’s say goodbye. No sense dwelling on the past.

Judo Simulacra Push Hands

A little while ago on Tim’s Discussion Board rodolfo asked, “Tai Chi and Jujitsu – Are there any Similarities between the two?” Tim’s response was to the point: “There are some technical similarities in the takedowns, and a number of the basic principles are the same in both arts.

Although I wasn’t aware of the above post when I started this blog entry, it is important to show there there is far more here than we thought at first.

Osoto Gari

Deashi Harai (Deashi Barai)

The first primary goal, as I explained on R.M-A, would be to examine the places in push hands where it was most natural to execute a judo throw. The second primary goal would be to recognize the attempt of a judo throw and attempt to thwart it via the push hands technique. The above clips demonstrate that this is not only possible, but that many judo throws are already a part of the tai chi repitoire.

The response so far has been phenomenal. With this “video evidence”, people started to realize the connection went beyond just throws and acknowledged that it included aspects of gripfighting and kuzushi.

Dan Windsor went so far as to start his own thread about it. Here is his OP:

OK, this is against my better judgement*, but I’m more interested in peoples’ answers to the root question. So renli wants to have a Judoka school him in some throws so he can then go and try to work on defending them with tie chee. I’m thinking he’d only need to learn 4 throws:
1. Seoi-nage
2. De-ashi-berai
3. O-soto-gari
4. Kata-guruma

to conceptually cover what he wants. Y’all thoughts?

*note: Dan is commenting on the fact that he usually just says i’m full of crap <g> some judoka never learn..

Even David Burkhead, the ringleader of the Physics division, chimed in by suggesting that Hane Goshi might make it to the list, along with a pick up throw (he suggested Suki Nage or Morote Gari) and a sacrifice throw (he suggested yoko otoshi).

Well, we can probably scratch pickups from the list 😉 but allow me to comment David L. Burkhead’s response to my questions (below), posted to r.m-a:

There are a number of ways Judo throws can be divided. For example, they can be divided by the primary kind of action that is involved (whether mostly hand action, or hip action, or leg action, etc makes the throw “happen”). These aren’t hard and fast divisions since sometimes a throw can fall near the boundary between two and be rather hard to classify. Likewise different variations of the same throw can functionally fall into different categories. “Tai Otoshi” is classically a hand throw. The right leg is stuck out for balance and to prevent uke from stepping around to regain balance. However, a modern form of Tai Otoshi comes in a lot closer, and will “pop” the leg back at the point of decision, using the leg to actively drive uke’s weight bearing leg back. This makes it function more as a “leg” throw.

I can’t speak to why Dan chose his four*, but I added the ones I did based on what it takes to defend against them. For example, Harai Goshi is a hip throw. Thrown right handed, it involves pulling your opponent in tight and turning to the left. Your right hip forms a fulcrum and lifts while your right leg sweeps back both preventing uke from stepping around and sweeping his legs out from under him. If you can internalize an ability to defend against Harai goshi, you are in good shape to defend against other hip throws: o goshi and uki goshi (no leg sweep, one more or less over the hip and the other more or less around it), tsurikomi goshi (tori comes in extra low and drives the right arm upward for lift–a good throw for shorter tori), koshi guruma, etc.

*note: Dan’s comment was “I was more going on directions of attack, but same concept. I like your approach better.”

Many other people have chimed in with tons of useful information. “Antipodean Lower Man” posted these videos of judo “push hands” (fascinating stuff):

Kirk Lawson suggested “backheel.. both types”.

Anyways, I am posting this because I need your help to organize this. I need ideas and information. In return I will share my findings and the result of this training. It will probably take six months to a year to work through all the material and train the throws. So here goes:

1. What Judo throws are you aware of which are present in tai chi? Specifically Chen style. We can say that one of the first applications in chen style is similar to deashi harai, for example. Does “fan through the back” contain Uki Goshi (or am I seeing it wrong?)

Part two, what are the chinese names for these throws? Some applications specific to push hands are named, for example ghost pushes a millstone. What are the push hand application names which are related to judo throws in Chinese, is there a list or book anywhere of generic push hands techniques, similar to something like this list of judo throws?

2. Which Judo throws do you feel would not be applicable to push hands, at all? I suspect many sacrifice throws would fit this list. Yoko Guruma springs to mind. I don’t see that being a viable push hands technique 😉

(Now what’s interesting to me is, taking yoko guruma as an example, it seems to my under-informed brain to look like a counter to something like Uki Goshi. What would the push hands counter be to your generic hip throw (hane goshi) for example? Speculation time).

3. How to solve the problem of training to counter sacrifice throws and pickups in push hands.. is it even necessary? (this is really a question how you would deal with someone breaking tradition, for example, suddenly shoving your chest). Is it worthwhile to train to counter such things?

4. The inevitable question: Do you as a taiji and/or judo practitioner think that this is a worthwhile thing to do as a whole, and why.

Thank you for any comments or advice.

Pushing the Issue

I just came across a great new website, Pushing the Issue. I found out about it from someone who forwarded these two videos to me:

This gives a voice to something I’ve felt for a long time, especially as a former Tai Chi Judge at at national martial arts competition. Mike Pekor hit the nail on the head – although we may wildly disagree on specifics and other issues (his website is interestingly outspoken) – it is true that push hands is a necessary requirement for the quan of taijiquan.

So, what’s the “Issue”?

Over the years, Push Hands play, especially tournament play, in the United States has transformed into an entity quite different from its original form.

Mmm. Well, I would like to agree by offering some constructive criticism 🙂

While the video above does in fact illustrate many of the “problems” in American push hands, I believe it fails to recognize a similar but different problem with Chinese push hands. While the American camp is too much like a soggy noodle, the Chinese camp is too “shuai jiao”*. This isn’t my lone opinion, this is what the old-timers in Chen village think of their own village’s push hands competitions. But to be fair, not everyone in these competitions is master level. We are all here to learn, right?

So in the spirit of learning, the video above (part 2) is correct when saying that American Push Hands Competitions should allow more “force”. But I also believe that the so-called original form of push hands, i.e. “cooperative” push hands, has been overlooked by an equal number of Chinese players. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not THAT cooperative. But there is a certain level of cooperation compared to what we see today in China, given the above videos. To lay it on the line, there is as much difference between the clips of Cheng and the American competition as there is between Cheng and the Chinese competition. So no, I don’t think it is entirely fair to compare the American and Chinese push hands camps and say one is better. I think that misses the point of what we should really be looking at.

If I had to say one way or the other I’d agree with Pushing the Issue. I think the American camp is slightly confused. Push hands for learning is not push hands for competition. Why then are we competing in this way? There is the famous story of a Judo guy (Mario Napoli) winning a push hands competition in China. And everyone knows about the Shuai Jiao guys winning push hands competitions in Taiwan. Everything is so confused nowadays. As Martial Development says in Push Hands and Competition, “Most of the 36 tui shou “sicknesses” noted by master Chen Xin are grounded in confusion about the difference between push hands and sparring.” Hmm, maybe we should stop and take a look at what we’re trying to accomplish with push hands competitions in the first place? Maybe it would be better to do away with it and just have san shou, and leave pushing hands alone as a training exercise?

After all, the “original form” alluded to by the quote at the beginning of this article was “cooperative” push hands for learning purposes. That’s right, originally competition was not present in push hands as it is today, in America or China. There were no formal rules, and the only informal rule is that you approach the activity with the correct attitude. What is the correct attitude? Consider again Chen Xin’s 36 Push Hands Sicknesses (also discussed in Tai Chi Magazine). This is not a set of rules per se, but rather something you would need to apply by yourself to your own push hands. So we see, when tai chi is used in competition without the proper foundation it is neither push hands nor san shou. I believe that’s the real issue on both sides of the sea, and it’s pretty easy to fix in our own practice.

I think in the end there is only one thing I truly disagree with in the video. It says that the most serious practitioners are likely to compete. I feel that there is in fact another camp of equally serious practitioners who don’t compete in these sorts of competitions; who use push hands only to learn taijiquan. Don’t get me wrong, I love push hands competitions and tai chi competitions in general. I think it’s healthy for the art. But one can hardly accuse the very skilled old-timers of Chen Village as not being serious practitioners because they don’t compete in “shuai jiao competitions”*. *Yes that’s a quote, but I can’t find the link right now. I’ll update it later.

Anyways, the purpose of this video is to start a discussion on the future of American push hands. I think that is a very valuable thing to do. I’m going to go check out that website, Pushing the Issue, and see how I can help 🙂

The Nine Holed Pearl

I was reading the Xiang Kairen “Push Hands” article again, when I was struck by another one of those insights. “Fair Lady Weaves Shuttles”.. “Taijiquan is like threading a nine holed pearl.”.. “The body is like a wheel.. The waist is like the axle.” Something clicked with a feeling I had about my form.

Simple metaphors are sometimes lost on us. Perhaps our modern mind misses the hands on knowledge of a simpler time. What is the movement principle? When one part moves, all parts move. On the other hand, it can be described as not moving, and this is also correct. Our first understanding comes by looking at the metaphors which talk about the movement principle.

Consider a wheel resting on the ground. Where can there be two heavy places? If there are two, then it cannot move, Therefore the Taijiquan Treatise says, “Do not allow any breaks or deficiencies; do not allow hollows or projections.” The reason is that if there are breaks or deficiencies, hollows or projections, then you cannot be circular. And if you are not circular, then you will be double weighted.. -Xiang Kairen, from http://www.nardis.com/~twchan/ph.html

Breaks, hollows, and flat surfaces are created by two pebbles thrown, not one. Do the hands move? Perhaps this is an incorrect question. Often it is said the hands may lead the body, or the body may lead the hands, but I am not sure this is really the main point. In the process of learning, if our goal is song (relax), or central equilibrium, then to practice of qi gong we must first understand the movement principle on in theory, or it is not qi gong at all. How can you practice qi gong if you don’t know what you’re doing?

Therefore, Zhan Zhuang is our first qigong. You might go so far as to say it’s our kakari. The single person equivalent of “invest in loss“. So all things considered, following this movement principle turns out to be simply an expression of humility.

Again, from the Xiang Kairen article:

We should understand that single weighted or double-weighted is not a matter of outer appearance but of the inside. Taijiquan is only the exercise of a central pivot. When you have found where this pivot is located, then your feeling will become spherical and every place will be single weighted, If you do not find the center of gravity, then your feeling will become stagnant and every place will be double-weighted. And it is not only the feet and hands–even one finger will be double weighted.

Personally? My body cannot yet express dantien rotation. I only understand the principle and training methods. This would be called the xin ming stage. One of my own goals is to rediscover the center point, because that is the part that does not move. From there, nothing moves, yet it can have the outward appearance of moving. “A wheel is useful because of the center-point”. The center point is created by your mind, and then expressed physically. It it is then discovered physically and expressed by your mind. If in the form you cannot “move in two directions” then your center point is not really a center point, in that case it is the same to say that you are double weighted – or perhaps more appropriately – double centered.

“Taijiquan is like a Nine Holed Pearl”.

How do you thread a pearl with nine joints in the hole? You cannot use strength, you must use technique. This is like the saying “lian li bu lian li“, train technique and not physical strength. You twist the thread (the technique) and this allows it to pass the joints inside. You cannot simply push the thread through with muscle, because the string does not have any strength or stiffness whatsoever. So having strength or not, this is not even the fundamental question, but rather an assumption and not the main point. How strong is the incoming force? Doesn’t this just make it easier to detect and avoid? If jing is is stiff and straight then what’s the effective difference between jing and li?

Once the desire to stuff the pearl has been removed, we can try to twist the string through the bends inside. It is difficult enough to thread the pearl by twisting one end, but if force was applied in an external manner, from or to the middle or front of the string only, then it breaks the twisting and threading the pearl would be impossible.

“The body is like a wheel. The waist is like the axle.”

The waist is the axle, means that the body surrounds the center point, which is in the waist. This gives us the general location of the dantian, and thinking further about the analogy we arrive at the image of the Dai Mai meridian (here is a chart, and here is more information).

Anyone can recognize these metaphors when they are explained but it requires a hard practice to understand them on a physical level where they can be employed. They are not secrets. In fact they are the opposite. They tell you what you must look for; they tell you how to practice. If you understand them and put them into practice then your Taijiquan will surely improve.

In the end you must do your own research – the true requirement for taijiquan is a search for truth, a thirst that might never be quenched but for understanding taijiquan. Only then will you accquire the method. After all, what I’ve said here is only a stepping stone, just a small flashlight that you might find useful. Then again, maybe it’s nothing, just a beginner’s mistake. In the end I think that everything I have said here can be reduced to “keeping the yuan qi smooth” as explained in the classics

I will post on this again when I have more experience trying to apply these theories. Good luck and keep practicing!

Lineage Project

I’ve updated the Yang Style lineage chart a bit. It’s still nowhere near what I used to have on the old site, but I would appreciate any comments and suggestions. I am particularly looking for the chinese characters for everyone’s name. Thanks and good luck.

Putting the Quan back into Taiji

Hmm. I’m not referring to Joanna’s excellent Martial Tai Chi site (she has a similar titled article) – but I thought this title would fit. I’d like to talk a little bit more about motivation in Taijiquan. It seems to be an important issue to a lot of people.

Um.. is this thing on? *taps mike* ok. Let’s talk about some videos.

The first thing I want to talk about is the martial spirit. The spirit of martial arts. I do not mean spirits entering your body like “African Bagua“. That isn’t really what gongfu is about. So now that we’re on this blacktaoist sort of vibe, I’ll bring up Frank Yee (Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kuen) as an example of martial spirit. In blacktaoist’s “Hung Gar Talk“, Frank Yee talks a little bit about martial spirit. Frank Yee sounds a lot like my old Hung Gar sifu.

When you combine wu de with martial spirit, there is an incredible drive to better yourself through training, both physically and as a person. So martial spirit does not mean you want to kill people. It is more of a drive to train and perform the movements with the correct flavor. So to this end martial spirit is a means to motivate yourself to train. I’ve talked about it a little before in Training Diary.

The second point I want to make about martial taiji is is how effective it is. Taijiquan is a real martial art which has a reputation of being able to stand up to other martial arts depending on the individual skill of the practitioner. Let me use Hung Gar again as an example. If two friends trained in the old days, one in say hung gar and one in tai chi, they might spar and we can say the result would be uncertain. We need to understand this. That taiji is capable of being competitive with other martial arts should the need arise.

Let’s see what I mean. In “Martial Talk #4“we see the hung gar concept of bridging (check 2:40 to 2:50). Serious Question #1: Can your taijiquan deal with this? It’s nearly the same concept you learn in push hands. Most Chinese Martial Arts have this skill. It is also found in Wing Chun, Preying Mantis, and White Crane just to name a few. So if your taiji can’t compete at this level, a good question is why not.

Another popular art is Bak Mei (white eyebrow). In Jik Bo Explanation it becomes clear that Bak Mei has concepts of fa jing and qi gong which are also found taijiquan (ignoring the qi debate for now 😉 ). And this isn’t just in Bak Mei. Everywhere you look this kind of stuff is going on. Granted, Bak Mei and other arts may look like the complete antithesis of taijiquan, but there are a lot more similarities than you think. And most chinese arts deal with jing and qi. How is taijiquan any different? I am just saying qi and jing to draw the obvious comparisons between what is going on in the above bak mei video and what a lot of taijiquan players like to talk about. So then, serious question: can your taijiquan generate this kind of power at the drop of a hat? How are you training?

Now let’s discuss wushu. Yes, wushu. Everyone laughs at wushu. It’s for sport, right? Well let’s take a look. In wushu, we see a level of physical conditioning absent from nearly all Taijiquan schools. Based purely on their physical strength, flexibility and endurance, most wushu players would be able to overcome the average taiji player. If strength, flexibility and endurance is not a foundation of gong.. what is? I feel if you seek a mystical answer then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Yes, taiji is different than wushu. But there are many things which are the same. More than you might think. Check out 0:27 and 0:55 in the above video. So yeah, how’s your stancework coming? And get a load of this guy. Okay, he does wushu. But what do you think – good foundation huh? Wushu Basics and Wushu Basics II are similar to “Wushu Foundations” above. Question: Would crosstraining in wushu improve your general ability to fight? For most taiji players the honest answer is yes. And this is wushu we’re talking about.

There is a saying that if you practice quan without the gong it is only a waste of time. But even if you want to talk just about accquiring quan, do you have quan? Take Eagle Claw as an example. Eagle Claw is another one of those suprisingly deep systems. But just looking at the surface applications in this video it seems that there are some very effective self-defense techniques being shown here. And this is just scratching the surface. Eagle Claw is well known for an extensive repertoire of qin na techniques. Sure, tai chi has some good quan in it. But have you studied it?

Going right on down the line, let’s check Preying Mantis. Preying Mantis, like Hung Gar, Wing Chun, Bak Mei, etc etc etc, can be a suprisingly complete art. As Martial Taiji players we love to believe that we are studying the supreme ultimate, but how well would we fare against someone who has trained an equal amount of time in Praying Mantis? If you take me as an example, I think I’d probably get destroyed.

What is it about taiji that you think makes it worth studying? Well it’s an internal art but most of the arts in this article are somewhat internal too. Maybe our sensitivity will help us? Adhere, stick follow? Push Hands, while not fighting, is certainly a major core training method of taijiquan. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate. Check this Wing Chun. Can you compete? Time to rattle that saber again, because from what I have seen of the mainstream taijiquan community the answer is no. I would say about 5% of the taiji people out there even train in push hands; and out of them, how many train enough that they could defend themselves against some serious chi sao as shown in the above clip?

And I haven’t even begun to discuss groundfighting! There are some taiji people who are researching this. But considering yourself, how would you fare against a judoka or even a highschool wrestler? We’ve all seen the UFC. It seems as if the bottom has come out of traditional martial arts as a whole, and this woman’s taijiquan is no exception.

And finally, lest you take solace in the saying “taiji does not go out the door for 10 years”, I’ve been doing taiji for longer than that. And I am telling you why it took me longer even just to get the basics. I hope this is a major wake up call to people who want to use their taijiquan for self defense. Yes, taiji can take upwards of 10 years. With proper training.

Taijiquan is well known as an ecclectic combination of the best of many different arts, with some unique contributions such as chan si gong. So… You want to put the quan back into taiji? Now you know what needs to be done. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Turn off your computer right now, get off the couch, turn off the TV, stop playing world of warcraft, tell your friends to go home, whatever it takes. I’m begging you: pull a Jou, Tsung-Hwa and stop reading the newspaper in the morning. Stop drinking and smoking, and start training a lot more than you do now. Is this just your hobby or do you want to achieve something unique? It’s up to you.

I want you to go to the window right now, and scream it at the top of your lungs. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Then go do some forms!

Then, maybe, just maybe you will be able to say to yourself in ten years time, “I did it”.